When my parents managed to raise the money and The Old House was finally ours it felt as if we were leaving a cramped kennell to occupy a mansion, all be it a very run down leaky mansion, but it was ours. There was no more old man smell lingering and no more strange visits late at night. It was a safe secure feeling to know that when we were all curled up in bed the door could be locked and we were snug in our own little niche.
My two sisters and I got a room all to ourselves. My mam and dad shared with our new brother. It was a squash but better than all being stuffed into one bedroom. They had taken out a bigger bank loan than was needed for the purchase and after a few months a contractor came to have a look at the place to see what he could do. He did wonders. We soon had a brightly tiled bathroom sporting a shining white indoor toilet and we had hot water all year round, it was heaven. The roof was replaced so we were dry as well as snug in our new home. We painted the whole house from top to bottom inside and out and I never saw my parents happier. The "parlour" was my mams pride and joy. They had the walls decorated with flock paper wine and cream in colour with a wine carpet. We had never known such luxury. During that time and for however long it lasted we were all very content.
For a while I forgot about my Jewish background and started to relax into my life. I was doing well at school, had found myself a best friend and we were inseperable. I often stayed over at her house and it was on a night such as this that our happiness was snatched away once again. I dont know why I felt uncomfortable about havng jewish blood in my veins. We lived in a very jewish community and everybody from the area were very nice and very friendly. I often studied our neighbours when they were not looking trying to figure out how people could tell who was what religion. I couldnt see any difference, we were mostly the same colour spoke the same language etc. They had their own customs but unless you were closely involved you would not be aware of these. My dad attended the synagogue weekly but where he went on friday evening and saturday morning was his business. My friends dads came and went to the local pubs on a regular basis and this was accepted without the bat of an eyelid. My dads sisters were all big breasted women and as a child I wondered if this was the deciding factor in being jewish and if it was well it wasnt so bad, i could live with that. I began to scrutanise the men a bit too closely wondering how it was possible to tell if they were Jewish, I found out a lot later on.
I also learned later on that I felt uncomfortable with being half jewish not because of my Jewish relations or friends but because of the narrow mindedness of a small number of people in our locale who were determined that us "half breeds" would not have a nice home or be happy. We were different, they didnt know how or why but we were and we didnt deserve to have anything.
It was an ordinary Friday night. I was sleeping over at my friends house. We had gone to the movies had a burger and went to bed fairly early. I had managed to get myself a part time job in a small local boutique so after making plans as to how we would spent our Saturday night I left to walk the half mile or so to work. I was feeling good, it was sunny and warm and I hummed to myself and then I saw him. He was leaning heaving against the shop front. His long overcoat was unbottoned, he was dishevelled and unshaven. He was smoking a cigarette and scanning the road obviously watching for me. My stomach lurched and my legs became heavy and I wanted to turn and run away from him. He was going to tell me something awful, something I really did not want to hear but I kept walking towards him thinking how old and tired and totally worn out he looked and my heart ached for this man.
"Dad" I said running the last few feet towards him "whats wrong, whats happened".
He stubbed out his cigarette and put his arm around my shoulder without a word
"What is it" I cried trying to pull away from him "I have to go into work"
He began walking and I had no choice but to walk with him.
"Dad. Your scaring me"
He stopped and his arm fell away from me. He kept his eyes to the ground and he spoke in a strained voice
"The house" he moaned "there was a fire"
"Oh God" I screamed "Mam, the kids"
He shook his head
"They are ok. The house is gone"
I could not take in what he was saying. Our house, our home, our lovely parlour and indoor toilet and hot water all year round was all gone. He was walking ahead of me now and I ran to catch up.
"Dad" I panted "stop, wait, please"
"Somebody threw a petrol bomb through the parlour window" he said through clenched teeth "Luckily Miss Mullen across the road heard the explosion and alerted the fire brigade. She hammered on the door until we heard her and we got out"
I felt my legs turn to jelly and all the blood leave my face and I thought I was going to fall. i grabbed for something to hold on to and instead of my fathers hand I found a cold steel railing. I hung on trying to breath while he lighted another cigarette.
"Where is evrybody"
"In your aunts house"
He began to walk away from me again
"Dad. i cant go home. I dont want to see our house" I cried foolishly tears streaming down my face
"No choice" he said without turning
I could smell the devasdation before I could see it. All the neighbours were out on the road looking at the ruins of The Old House and shaking their heads saying how terrible it was, what a tragedy and if there was anything anybody could do to help. We made the right noises and disappeared into my aunts house. In my head I could see the burnt out shell of our "parlour" the glass that had been broken when the home made petrol bomb was tossed through our front room window but in the fore front of my mind was the nazi sign splashed in bright red paint across our charred hall door and the words "jews out".
"Who did this" I asked my family but as that time nobody knew
The fact that it was a racist attack was never mentioned by my dad or anybody else for that matter. I think my dad blamed himself for what happened. He grew older instantly quieter and he seemed to loose some of himself in that fire. Our insurance money covered the cost to repair some of the damage and when it was proven that the contractors sons had deliberately set fire to our home the work was done relatively quickly and very cheaply. The Old House stood again but its soul had gone. Instead of the lingering smell of our landlord the smell of smoke never quite left. The parlour was decorated again, this time beige and browns and although it was once again lovely it wasnt the same. We never felt snug when the door was closed at night and sometimes i couldnt help but ask if my parents ever again relaxed and had a good night sleep in the house
It was one of those things that eventually got swept and painted and polished away and packed to be stored with other past memories that are not talked about. I sometimes pressed my sisters or my parents to tell me what it was like when they heard the banging at the front door or smelt the smoke or saw the flames but they all agreed that it all happened so quickly the memory was lost in the panic. Since i wasnt there I dont know and hope that I never will. When I think back to The Old House and my fathers face as he told me about the fire i cant help asking why does being different have to mean being bad.